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June 24, 1998

Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame Weekend

Albert Everett

The weekend of June 19-22 of this year was an busy one for the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation, including a Jazz for Kids show on Friday at the Little Rock Public Library, the 1998 Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Capitol Keyboard on Saturday night, and two shows at the AfterThought on Monday night. The new Hall of Fame members include composer/pianist/vocalist Bob Dorough, vocalist/educator Roseanna Vitro, and saxophonist John Stubblefield. The late saxophonist Art Porter, Jr. was awarded the foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award, which includes automatic induction into the Hall of Fame. Bob Dorough and Roseanna Vitro both flew in from out of state to be present.

Since I began the foundation's web site (www.arjazz.org), I've been involved in most of its activities. My job this time was to take care of Roseanna and her family while they were here. Her mother, two sisters, and 2-year-old niece were to drive up from Dallas. Roseanna was winding up five weeks of vocal training in India and even cut her training short to be here in Arkansas for the Hall of Fame ceremony. Bob Dorough was hosted by Ben and Mary Thomson while he was here.

Friday afternoon, after several hours on the road back from Fort Smith after Alison Krauss' rained-out performance Thursday night, my friend Gloria and I headed straight to Bob Dorough's Jazz for Kids show at the Little Rock Public Library. We found the auditorium as Bob and the band (Joe Vick on bass, Dave Rogers on drums, Zinze on congas) were in the middle of "Three is a Magic Number" from Bob's long-running Saturday morning animation series "Schoolhouse Rock." Everyone in the room was singing along and counting by threes, kids as well as their teachers and parents. Bob and the band played other numbers from "Schoolhouse Rock" and several songs from his recent Blue Note release "Right On My Way Home" for more than an hour.

My college-aged niece Jenny drove up Friday night from Magnolia to help me get ready for Roseanna's arrival. The following morning Jenny and I met Bob and the Thomsons for a fine Arkansas breakfast at the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse. What I'd heard from others about Bob was true - he was warm and friendly and was soon talking with Jenny about her classes and his own interest in various languages. After meeting Bob, Jenny changed her plans for the evening to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony.

Later that afternoon, Gloria and I took her car (my truck has no a/c and no tailgate) to pick up Roseanna at the airport and got her checked in at her hotel. Her family had just arrived and checked in minutes before. I glanced heavenward, thankful for the lack of mishaps. We got the Vitro clan over to Capitol Keyboard a few minutes before the Hall of Fame ceremony, and she and Bob began to work out an arrangement of his song "Nothing Like You," a challenging tune recorded by Roseanna on her "Softly" album.

After a dinner catered by La Scala Italian Restaurant, the program began with an introduction by Pamela Smith, a jazz fan and Channel 7's weekend anchor. After a tune by the evening's band (leader Dave Rogers on drums, Joe Vick on bass, Rex Bell on keyboards, and Memphis guest saxophonist Herman Green), Pauline Porter accepted her son Art Jr.'s award with a speech filled with her pride in his accomplishments as well as her pain from having lost him at such a young age. The Art Porter Singers followed with a couple of songs including one of Art Jr.'s favorites, "Somewhere" from "West Side Story."

Unfortunately, saxophonist John Stubblefield was beginning a European tour with the Mingus Big Band and couldn't make it. The band played his tune "Midnight over Memphis." His sister Joyce Petillo accepted his award in his place and described his early and lasting fascination with the saxophone and also his appreciation of the Art Porter family, many of whom had been on gigs with him while he was living in Little Rock.

The band followed with "Autumn Leaves." By happy coincidence, Chris Potter, one of today's great tenor players, dropped in, still in town after his appearance at UALR with the Brad Mehldau Trio the previous evening. He and Herman Green sounded great together, Chris the young lion and Herman the veteran of years with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Miles and Coltrane.

After Bob Dorough's introduction, he played his new arrangement of the Mancini/Mercer classic "Moon River" from his new album. Marshall Purvis, a foundation member who hosted a popular radio program on KLAZ in the mid-70's, called out a request for Bob's tune "Baltimore Oriole," and Bob honored it, following it with his famous "Yardbird Suite," which he calls "my first advertisement for jazz." Finally, he and the band played his "Nothing Like You." After several choruses, he modulated to Roseanna's key and she joined the band to finish the tune and start her part of the evening. She also sang "Falling In Love With Love" from "Softly," and "The Island," a sensuous tune by Brazilian composer Ivan Lins which she recorded on her "Reaching for the Moon" album.

The evening finished with everyone on stage for the Thelonius Monk tune "Blue Monk" from Roseanna's "Passion Dance" CD. Roseanna went from musician to musician, playing duet choruses with each, including Bob, who improvised a couple of verses for her on the spot.

After the festivities, Bob, Roseanna, and Herman exchanged stories from the road for a while and I delivered Roseanna back to her room. The following afternoon, we all met again for brunch to hear Charles Thomas at the Holiday Inn West, and I went back over later that night to watch "Jackie Brown" with Roseanna and her family. Before driving Roseanna back to the airport Monday morning, we stopped at WalMart for some Razorback shirts and had a fine breakfast of eggs and cheese grits with Bob and the Thomsons.

Monday night, Bob Dorough played two shows at the AfterThought with Dave Rogers and Joe Vick. As he had at the library on Friday, Bob had the audience singing along with him on tunes from "Schoolhouse Rock," unusual for the sophisticated AfterThought crowd. He played "Moon River, "I Get the Neck of the Chicken," and the title track from "Right On My Way Home." He also played several of his more well-known tunes, including "Small Day Tomorrow," which I had mentioned in passing to him at breakfast days before. I don't know if he played because I had mentioned it, but it felt good to think so, and I was touched. Bob described his long-distance songwriting partnership with Fran Landesman in England. Having played two gigs with Bob already, Joe and Dave sounded particularly good with him Monday night, and Bob repeated a comment he made throughout the weekend, that "we don't rehearse in Arkansas," but this time adding that our local players are so good that rehearsals are unnecessary.

Bob is presenting his show "Schoolhouse Rock and All That Jazz" in New York's Central Park June 27th. Drop by if you're in the neighborhood. There's also a theatre production, "Schoolhouse Rock Live," that's touring the country now and should be here and in Memphis in fall.

If you're a jazz fan, consider joining the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation. There is work to do, but the perks are good.

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